Borough discusses fire protection services

Council evaluates status of borough fire companies

LEWISTOWN–In an effort to address the status of Lewistown Borough’s current fire companies, members of the borough council hosted John Senft, a consultant for public fire protection, Thursday night, during a Streets Committee meeting at the Lewistown Borough Municipal Building.

The report that was presented was funded by the Department of Community and Economic Development, as requested by the borough. Senft, a retired fire chief and career firefighter, offered several recommendations and options that the borough could explore to improve fire protection services throughout the borough.

Lewistown is the largest borough within Mifflin County, with an estimated population of 8,205, as of the 2010 census, so Senft stated that effective and efficient services are necessary. He also noted that it is the responsibility and authority of the borough to provide adequate fire protection services for residents.

Some of the topics that were addressed during Thursday night’s meeting included department and operational bylaw revisions, position descriptions, training assessments, facility inspections, financial management, reporting and record keeping.

In regards to department facilities, Senft’s presentation stated, “The borough…may want to consider conducting a needs assessment to explore the advantages of a new fire station at a strategically selected location. Consideration for this should be driven by data projecting the need for future services.”

Additionally, the presentation noted, “For the fire companies that maintain a social club, consideration should be given to operating separate and distinct cost and revenue centers; one for the social club and one for fire company operations. It may also be desirable, from an accounting and risk management standpoint, to organize the social club as a separate entity, such as its own nonprofit corporation.”

Senft also addressed deployment options for the borough fire companies in the event of a fire or emergency situation, such as operating from a three-station model or one central location, which would house all fire department resources.

Additionally, discussion addressed the benefits and drawbacks of utilizing borough-operated services, borough supported services or borough contracted services. Senft also encouraged the borough to consider speaking with elected officials at the county level in order to establish a proximity dispatching system, which would help to increase efficiency in response to emergencies.

After outlining various recommendations and options that the borough could consider moving forward, Senft noted that, “These recommendations are intended to be a tool to help elected officials make informed decisions for what is right for the people of the borough.” Ultimately, Senft noted that the borough’s decisions are dependent on their collaboration with the current fire stations in order to determine the needs of the borough as it progresses into the future.

“Strategically, I think it’s probably in the best public protection interests, and probably in the best financial interest, to look outside of your current political boundaries to address your future issues in public fire protection,” Senft said.

Following Senft’s presentation, the council addressed their concerns with pursuing the options he outlined. Borough council Vice President Dave Campbell stated, “The biggest thing for me, I guess it seems historically, the borough could have done a better job of collecting data. We have no data at all as far as I’m concerned.”

Council President Venus Shade also stated that the local fire companies have also presented a lack of data over the years as well. Shade also added that it will be difficult to convince the area that change to the current fire protection structure and services within the borough is needed.

Senft also reassured Shade that without innovation and change, “You wouldn’t have motors in fire apparatuses. We would have hand-drawn pumpers and it would take 100 people with buckets throwing water on fires.”